Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Autism diaries XX: reading mischief

This summer, mercifully, there seem to be no summer projects.  But we haven't escaped the summer reading assignments, and so I need to decide whether to have J struggle through sentences like:

It was interesting to see the teachers come and go, talking about what they would have for lunch or what they had done the night before just as if they were normal people.
...or whether to stick with The Story of the World, Volume IV and its much more comprehensible sentences like:
One September morning in 1845, an Irish farmer in his field pushed his hand into the ground to check in his potatoes.
While The Story of the World doesn't present the comprehension challenges of realistic fiction, it does sometimes awaken J's mischievousness.  Here's what happened as J continued reading aloud the account of the Irish potato famine.

"'His fingers found only soft, rotten mush. Desperately, he began to dig. A horrible stench rose up out of the ground.  All of the potatoes beneath the thick stem had rotted away in the ground.'"

J looks off to the side and starts smiling.  Is he reminiscing about repurposing the potatoes as batteries, or plotting some new mischief?

"Keep reading," I command.

"'The blight had come to Ireland."

His concentration returns and he makes it through the next paragraph without incident.  He begins the following one.

"'The potato crop failed again the following year, and the year after that, and the year after than."  He starts chuckling.

"Keep reading."

"'No one knew how to stop the potato plague. People in Ireland began to die of hunger in the hundreds..." his chuckling continues.


"'and then in the thousands.'"  Louder chuckles.

"'and then in the hundreds of thousands.'"  Now belly laughs.

Is he laughing in response to the reading? I start wondering.  I take the book away. 

"Why are you laughing?"

"Because I think it's funny that so many Irish people died."

It's at moments like these that I'm grateful for the psychological re-evaluation he had last summer as part of renewing his autism-related services.  After his umpteenth, gleeful announcement to all the professionals present that "I am going to kill you," Ms. G., a trained art therapist, handed him a blank piece of paper and some colored pencils and asked him to draw something.

And instead of drawing a picture of a boy gleefully cutting up an earthworm or holding up a still-lit match to a burning house (pictures that are completely outside J's repertoire), he drew a picture of an Acela Train captioned by a schedule of all the stops it takes between Philadelphia and Boston, and proceeded to explain it in great detail.

"He shows absolutely no signs of psychosis," Ms. G declared afterwards.

Which is not to say that he doesn't have disturbing reactions to world history.  Stay tuned for a post on what happened when we read about South African apartheid.


Liz Ditz said...

Uhmm, I forget how old J is, but I just wanted you to know that the neurotypical boys in my life between the ages of about 10 and 14 just reveled in death and destruction.

And yes, found the written reports of others' suffering funny.

Dead baby jokes, endless games of "kill 'em all" (formerly cowboys and indians) etc.

They are now in their 30s and good husbands & fathers.

Maybe it just part of something more boys go through....

Barry Garelick said...

At the age of 14, my friends and I used to think up various tortures. We eventually tired of it.

Katharine Beals said...

Thanks guys-- that's all very reassuring, in a weird kinda way.